The New Jersey Devils' goaltender, who shut out the Isles in this building just 13 days ago, spent the early portion of Saturday night's game making one dazzling save after another. One began to assume frustration would set in and the Islanders would lose for the sixth time in seven tries on home ice.
But John Tavares would have none of it.
The face of the franchise scored twice during a three-goal binge late in the second period and completed his fourth career hat trick in the third, helping the Islanders move back within a game of the .500 mark with a 5-1 victory at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum.
Tavares, the top pick in the 2009 NHL Draft, now has goals in five consecutive games and is tied with Buffalo's Thomas Vanek and Pittsburgh's James Neal for the League lead with 11 in 14 games.
"I tried getting back to some things over the summer shooting-the-puck wise that I wanted to work on," Tavares told NHL.com. "Not that I go out there thinking about leading the League in goals, but when I get opportunities, I want to capitalize."
Tavares, who also had an assist, wasn't the only Islander to contribute to the team's second straight win. Matt Moulson had a goal and three assists, Brad Boyes had two assists and Evgeni Nabokov made 30 saves for the Islanders (6-7-1), who host the Philadelphia Flyers on Monday afternoon.
Marek Zidlicky scored the lone goal for New Jersey, which lost at the Coliseum for the first time in three meetings this season. The Devils (9-3-3), who went 1-for-5 on the power play, host the Ottawa Senators on Monday.
"No one likes to lose, but you're going to lose some games," New Jersey coach Peter DeBoer said. "There are no easy stretches this season. We've got to bounce back on Monday afternoon."
Hedberg (2-1-1) made two big saves just over a minute into the game. After getting his pad on a wrister by Moulson from the slot, he stretched across the crease and robbed Boyes on the rebound.
David Ullstrom had a golden opportunity to get the Islanders on the board late in the first period, when he was awarded a penalty shot after being hooked from behind on a breakaway by Devils defenseman Henrik Tallinder. But Ullstrom, who returned to the lineup after being a healthy scratch Thursday night, hit the crossbar on a backhand attempt. It was the second penalty shot for the Islanders in a week; Tavares also hit the post against Buffalo last Saturday.
Hedberg has allowed only two goals on 11 penalty shots in his NHL career.
Hedberg came up with another huge save less than five minutes into the second period. With the teams skating 4-on-4, Frans Nielsen made a backhand feed into the slot, where Michael Grabner was all alone. But Hedberg sprawled out to make a dazzling save with his right pad, robbing the speedy winger from point-blank range.
"Heddy [played] an unbelievable game," Devils captain Bryce Salvador said. "He comes out and does what he does. He gave us a chance to win. He made some big saves and we just kind of let down in front of him."
New York finally solved Hedberg with 3:14 remaining in the second period when Tavares tallied his ninth goal of the season. With the teams at even strength, Boyes fired a wrister from the right circle that Hedberg denied with his right pad. But Tavares was right there for the rebound and ripped it into an open net to give the Islanders a 1-0 lead.
He doubled the lead just 1:23 later. Just moments after Salvador was penalized for retaliating to a hit by Matt Martin, the Islanders cashed in as Tavares swatted Moulson's rebound past Hedberg from just in front of the crease to make it 2-0.
"We've gone after teams, whether things have gone our way or not," Tavares said of his club's past two games, including a 4-3 shootout win against the Rangers at Madison Square Garden on Thursday. "We've kept going at teams, we've kept putting pressure on them and it's created opportunities for us. We've been rewarded for that and we've just got to keep that going."
While it won't land on the scoresheet, it clearly was the work of Martin to draw the penalty on Salvador that led to the Islanders' second goal. Indeed, New York's improvements on the fourth line this season (Martin, Casey Cizikas and Colin McDonald) are beginning to pay huge dividends.
"Not only are they doing the right things at the right times, but they're playing physical," Isles coach Jack Capuano said. "That's exactly what we want them to do. Hopefully that'll continue for us. I would say that's something that we were missing last year."
Another Devils' penalty -- this one on Tallinder -- allowed the Islanders to grab a 3-0 lead. Moulson scored his seventh goal of the season with 53.4 seconds left in the period when he took a nice feed by Boyes from behind the net and quickly whacked it past Hedberg. It marked the first time Hedberg allowed more than two goals in his four appearances this season.
New York finished 3-for-6 with the man advantage.
"There was a five-, six-minute stretch in the second period that the game got away from us," DeBoer said. "I thought after the first, we could have been up by a couple and it's a different game. But their best players were their best players tonight -- Tavares and their goaltender -- and that was the difference."
Zidlicky got New Jersey on the board via the power play 8:47 into the third period. With Isles captain Mark Streit in the box, Zidlicky took a pass from Patrik Elias and rifled a slap shot from the right point past Nabokov to make it 3-1. It was Zidlicky's first goal of the season.
Ilya Kovalchuk notched the secondary assist on the goal, extending his point streak to six games. He has 10 points (three goals, seven assists) in that span. It was also Kovalchuk's 800th NHL point.
Tavares completed the hat trick on a power-play goal with 5:15 remaining. Just as a two-man advantage expired, Tavares took a pass from Streit and unleashed a gorgeous wrist shot from the right circle that rocketed just underneath the crossbar to make it 4-1.
"Your best players have got to be your best players," Capuano said. "They executed real well tonight."
Grabner added his sixth of the season with 35 seconds left.
|John Tavares (9) ASST: Brad Boyes (7), Matt Moulson (8)|
1 - 0 NYI
|PPG - John Tavares (10) ASST: Matt Moulson (9), Lubomir Visnovsky (4)|
2 - 0 NYI
|PPG - Matt Moulson (7) ASST: Brad Boyes (8), John Tavares (9)|
3 - 0 NYI
|PPG - Marek Zidlicky (1) ASST: Patrik Elias (15), Ilya Kovalchuk (10)|
3 - 1 NYI
|PPG - John Tavares (11) ASST: Mark Streit (4), Matt Moulson (10)|
4 - 1 NYI
|Michael Grabner (6) ASST: Keith Aucoin (2), Travis Hamonic (5)|
5 - 1 NYI
|Matt Martin Holding against Andy Greene|
|Henrik Tallinder Boarding against Matt Martin|
|Brad Boyes Interference on goalkeeper against Johan Hedberg|
|Bryce Salvador Hi-sticking against Matt Martin|
|Henrik Tallinder Tripping against Kyle Okposo|
|Mark Streit Holding against Patrik Elias|
|Michael Grabner Hi-sticking against Travis Zajac|
|Marek Zidlicky Holding against Frans Nielsen|
|Alexei Ponikarovsky Interference against Josh Bailey|
|Steve Bernier Unsportsmanlike conduct against Matt Martin|
|Krys Barch Misconduct (10 min) against Matt Martin|
|Casey Cizikas Cross checking against Bryce Salvador|